“Out of the Attic and into the Stacks: The Feminism in LIS Unconference” at UW-M – and Why We Desperately Need It

“Out of the Attic and into the Stacks: Feminism in LIS” this weekend in Milwaukee.

This Friday, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies (SOIS), along with co-conveners School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS), UW-Madison, and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will come together to present, “Out of the Attic and into the Stacks: Feminism in LIS,” an unconference (March 9-11, Milwaukee, WI).

Why feminism in LIS now? Simply put, the situation for women hasn’t felt this dire in years. As a divisive and acerbic Republican primary season has gripped the country, women have taken center-stage in a resurgence of the culture wars reminiscent, in tone, of the early 90s and in position of perhaps even another few decades previous.  And while so-called  “women’s issues” have dominated the headlines, the climate has extended to other easy targets.  Last fall, a Virginia-based “think tank” specializing in the eradication of race-based admissions preferences in colleges descended upon the University of Wisconsin-Madison, eager to pick a fight and cause derision at the campus.  Throwing conservative “states’ rights” values out the window in order to meddle with the inner workers of the state’s flagship university, the visiting director of the center dished out arguments that seemed directly ripped from the pages of The Bell Curve, a book I thought long ago discredited, in a debate I attended along with hundreds of others. Like being trapped in some kind of time machine or Twilight Zone, I remarked to a friend that all that was needed was an appearance by Dinesh D’Souza sporting Hammer pants, and the return to 1990 would be complete.

Yet, in 2012, it’s as if the past years of social gains and progress in the arena of the standing of women never happened, either. Enter “Out of the Attic and into the Stacks,” in which participants will gather together to talk about the current climate for all women, using the perspective and lens of LIS to inform and ignite the conversation.

From my own perspective, I certainly see the issues facing women today from multiple fronts with many intersections.  Pragmatic issues such as lack of access to key resources, women and children living in poverty, lack of educational and reasonable employment prospects, and so on, are at the fore on many of our minds, as are the situations and issues of particular relevance to women of color and LGBT-identified women, all of which the unconference plans to bring into the discussion.  From a political perspective, too, I hope to get to grips alongside my unconference colleagues with the current scapegoating and targeting of women, using historical and theoretical frameworks that are applicable. Multiple feminisms will be key to these discussions, and many exciting resources have been identified on the unconference’s wiki, to which all participants may contribute.

I also view this situation from an informational lens.  Not only are women’s access to services in health care, reproductive and pre-natal care, equal pay, and a host of other hard-earned rights being threatened or rescinded, full-stop, but, crucially, women’s access to information about their rights and services available to them are also disappearing.  State legislatures have been busily curtailing or otherwise interfering with what women can know and when they can know it about abortion services, contraception and other information vital to their reproductive and overall health; similar debates have raged at the federal level and are featuring in the Republican presidential primaries.  All of this offers a backdrop conducive to a general cultural climate in which Rush Limbaugh thought it would be fine to refer to a Georgetown Law student seeking birth control access in a hearing before Congress as a “slut” or a “prostitute” over 50 times – as if such a status should render women ineligible for health care or the most basic common courtesy. At least he seems to have misfired on this particular episode, but as Sandra Fluke (the target of his misogynistic outbursts) and others point out, the real issue is not Limbaugh’s attention-seeking behavior, but the legislative and other political maneuvers that lie behind it, and other anti-women actions and sentiment that are their outcome.

For those of us LIS students, practitioners, and scholars who will be taking part in the unconference this weekend, both hope and energy is running high. With time spent together discussing the collective state of feminism, women and social justice topics, in general, my hope is to emerge with some concrete (re)dedications and linkages of the role of and opportunities for LIS to the social issues and lacks that are plaguing our society – with some more than others bearing the heavy burden of the disturbing trends I’ve outlined.  Seeing that the unconference will be taking place Milwaukee, a once vibrant and now devastated Midwestern urban center and now one of the country’s leaders in infant mortality, the stakes could not be higher. This is about so much more than women. This is about us all.

Follow the unconference organizers on Twitter @FeminismLIS, and participate in the conversation with the hashtag #feminismLIS .